The 2013 season has been a debacle. The team looks lost. The stands are emptying. And fans are starting to call for a new coach.
But there's a small body of evidence suggesting that the problems with the football program extend beyond the players and coaching staff and into the athletic department. And that those problems are personified by Virginia Executive Associate Athletic Director Jon Oliver. That evidence depicts Oliver as an over-eager administrator who makes football-related decisions that are out of his depth. And those decisions have arguably hurt the program in the long run.
The Oliver question is of utmost importance to the Virginia program. Because whatever happens to Mike London this off-season or next, Oliver stands to play a major role in the deciding the program's future.
Let's take a look at the history of some of Oliver's decisions.
Here's what we know. Mike London was ACC Coach of the Year in 2011 and led the Cavaliers to within a win of the ACC title game. His Cavaliers beat both Florida State and Miami on the road, and an undefeated Georgia Tech at home. London was rewarded with a generous contract extension. The Cavaliers had a down year in 2012, going 4-8. Of those eight losses, four were by a touchdown or less.
In the off-season, London apparently responded to the rough season by firing half of his staff, including Virginia legend Shawn Moore. Jon Oliver admittedly played a major part in the Virginia wholesale staff changes. This was well-documented in the Daily Progress (here) and (here) in January. But more, when one reads through those articles, it's hard to tell who's making the decisions. On the decision to pursue Tom O'Brien, Oliver said "I worked hard to make sure that Mike and Tom could get together." On the decision to go after Larry Lewis, Oliver said "‘Larry, I need you to come and talk to Mike London.'" On Steve Fairchid: "After the call, Oliver told London, "I think that’s your guy. Let me know how it goes, but I think that’s your guy."
Go re-read those quotes again, and ask yourself who's steering the ship? It's not wildly off-base to say that this new staff, which has struggled, is just as much Oliver's creation as it is London's.
Evidence suggests that Oliver has a history of this type of interference. As the Roanoke Times pointed out in January, Oliver's interactions with London are pretty similar to how Oliver interceded in Al Groh's football program in 2008. According to Groh, the administration forced him to make assistant coaching changes after a 5-7 season. Groh brought on a new offensive coordinator and special teams coordinator for 2009. Virginia promptly went 3-9 with the new assistants, and Groh was fired in November of that year.
"That's the general manager," Groh said, referring to Oliver. "They're like a pro organization in that respect."
Let that sink in. Groh was ACC coach of the year in '07 and one win away from the ACC title game. He had a bad year in '08 and is forced to change assistants. The team is a complete mess in '09. London wins ACC coach of the year in '11. He has a bad year in '12 and changes assistants. The team is a mess in '13. That's a pattern.
We also know that Oliver has been instrumental in beefing up Virginia's schedule. Oliver was also out front in the off-season about the addition of Oregon to Virginia's 2013 slate (Quotes from ESPN article here). We all saw how that turned out. It was great for the box office (though the game didn't sell out), and a debacle on the field. Virginia is sporting one of the youngest teams in the nation and has new coordinators on offense, defense, and special teams. Would the Cavaliers have been better served with a more reasonable opponent? One could definitely make that argument. And don't forget -- Virginia still has to play a return game AT Oregon in a couple of years. Where will the program be then?
Face of the Program
Moreover, we Oliver has never shied from showing public ownership over the football program. He spoke quite a bit in the offseason about the improvements made to the staff, facilities, schedule, and more. He's also never been shy about going on the radio and telling Virginia fans to step up their team support. He's the executive producer of Virginia's "Building of the Program" TV show, and frankly was the star of the last couple of episodes. Go and rewatch the episodes from spring practice. Oliver is everywhere. He's talking about staff upgrades. He's talking about facility upgrades. He's talking about schedule upgrades. He's the lead actor.
If he's going to take the credit for the improvements...he needs to start feeling the heat when things don't turn out the way he's hoped.
So there are a lot of interesting observations when it comes to Oliver and the football program:
1) Virginia went 4-8 last year. Evidence suggests that Oliver interceded and ostensibly led wholesale staff changes. Virginia is 2-7 currently and could finish 2-10 in 2013.
2) Virginia went 5-7 in 2008. Evidence suggests that the athletic department interceded, forced Groh to change staff, and Virginia went 3-9 the following year. Groh lost his job.
3) Oliver has worked on "beefing up" the schedule of a program that arguably needs wins, not big-time opponents.
4) Oliver often shows ownership of the program in public.
Jon Oliver has been at Virginia for thirteen years. He's done some great things when it comes to fundraising and marketing for the football program. The "Building of the Program" series is one of the coolest things Virginia has had promotion-wise in years.The indoor football facility is top-notch. Oliver should be commended for those efforts.
But evidence suggests that Oliver has also worked closely making decisions with the Groh football regime and now the London regime on both personnel and scheduling. And both of those regimes have underperformed expectations. That underperformance should raise significant questions about Oliver's oversight of Virginia's most valuable and expensive athletic property.
With the poor results the program is now facing, the administrator in charge deserves just as much scrutiny as the head coach. If London fails with his new assistants, Oliver shouldn't be left unscathed.
In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.